Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — If there is anything to take away from the University of Iowa volleyball team’s first two Big Ten matches, it’s the fact that they are now ready to compete.
The Hawkeyes traveled to the East Coast over the weekend for matches against Rutgers and second-ranked Penn State. Iowa swept Rutgers, 3-0, on Friday, extending its winning streak to five matches before falling to Penn State, 3-1, on Saturday.
“It was great to get a road sweep on Friday night,” UI head coach Bond Shymansky said. “We started off shaky on Saturday at Penn State, but we thought it showed a lot of grit and character for our group when we started to be competitive. We have the capability and skillset to beat great teams and be a great team. The last step is the belief that we can.”
The win over Rutgers was Iowa’s first Big Ten opening win since 2009.
Iowa holds a 12-3 record through 15 matches and its 12 wins are tied for most in the conference. While the team doesn’t accept the loss, Iowa’s third set against Penn State is proof of a process that is working. The Hawkeyes’ 25-23 set win is their first against Penn State since 2012.
“Winning sets and being in close matches, especially on the road in the Big Ten, takes a lot of fortitude,” Shymansky said. “All of the things we have been building is resulting in better opportunities in those tight situations and that has taken time for our program to get to. We know we can beat most teams in the league and now we need to beat the best teams.”
The Hawkeyes saw more from junior Taylor Louis, who led Iowa in kills during both matches, but freshman Claire Sheehan is starting to emerge as an effective outside hitter just in time for conference play.
“She is growing up right before our eyes,” Shymansky said. “One of her strengths is her steadiness as a passer and competitive composure. The college level has required her to be smart about attacking and look at scouting reports. This is where she continues to grow.”
Sheehan garnered 22 kills and three blocks over the weekend, including sealing Iowa’s third set win against Penn State. Sheehan is not the only freshman showing up in conference play.
Freshman Brie Orr continues to be a top-tier setter in the Big Ten and nation, ranking second in overall assists (590) and 19th in the country.
The Hawkeyes are home for the next two weeks for a five-match home stand inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a place they are 6-1 on the season and 17-6 since the beginning of 2016.
“The Carver crowd has been awesome this year and now they are going to see a lot of great volleyball when they come out to support us,” Shymansky said. “(The Iowa State match) was probably the most electric I have felt Carver at a volleyball match since I have been here. It has a huge impact of the emotion and momentum of the match and our team.”
Iowa hosts No. 7 Wisconsin on Friday at 7 p.m. (CT), and No. 3 Minnesota on Saturday (7 p.m.). Fans can register for the volleyball moped sweepstakes at any home contest or online at hawkeyesports.com. The first winner will be announced at Friday’s match against Wisconsin.